Yesterday I commented on how the mind is untrustworthy, often lying to you about who you are. It likes to barge into your awareness, often while yelling out “I” this, and “I” that, making bold claims about who and what you are. A common example would be to hear, “I can’t do this…” while attempting to do something that is difficult.
I’d like to challenge all of you to try something. When you hear that thought inside your mind, immediately pause, then stare back “inwardly” and say, “Who is this ‘I’ that can’t understand? How do you know whether this ‘I’ can or cannot accomplish this?” Call it out. Make it show itself. Drag it out of the shadows and put the light on it. Who are you? Where do you come from? Why are you saying this? How do you know this?
In life we have these thoughts in our minds, going all over the place, and half of the time they don’t know what they’re talking about. This is what I’ve been learning in meditation. I hear this chatter inside my skull and I observe it in awe. Every time I hear some sort of “I” statement floating around in my mind, I drag it out into the open, in self-awareness, and I shine a giant spot-light on it, then I grill it like a police interrogator. Put it up on the witness stand and make it accountable. Nine times out of ten, this phantom imposter will vanish into dust after the first few questions.
If you go to understand something difficult, say some complicated physics concept, and you hear that thought, “I can’t understand this…”, who is this “I”? It doesn’t exist. How do I know this? I can pretty much guarantee you, within a few weeks, you’ll keep studying it, and keep at it, and eventually something will give way and you’ll get “it”, whatever it was. I hear this from a student, I know they can get it. Why? Because I was able to get it, and there’s nothing inherently special about me. I just spent some time with it, that’s all. So I will ask all of you, who was this “I” that couldn’t understand? Did it exist? Was it real? Obviously not. So what was it?
It’s a belief that comes from who knows where. Maybe you took some exam way back when and didn’t do so well, and from then on you told yourself you weren’t good at physics. Maybe it was some comment a teacher, your parents, or someone you respect made to you years ago. Maybe a friend cracked some joke and it destroyed your confidence in this area. I have no idea where it came from, but it sunk deep into you, and it’s nothing but poison. Become self-aware of it, call it out, and then let it go. Don’t let it keep you under its bondage any longer.
I meditate a lot these days, most of the time simply observing my own thoughts, emotions, and mind from the “outside”, without judgement. It’s been a profound experience for me. I’ve been learning the human mind is very crafty and deceptive, weaving tale after tale, building up this illusory “I”, which upon “outside” inspection is not real at all.
For example, I oftentimes experience these thoughts and feelings which spring up within me on their own. One goes something like this. I’ll be lying in bed after waking up in the morning, or eating breakfast, or in the shower, or whatever, and then all of the sudden this thought pattern will arise, spontaneously, “I miss so and so.” For years and years it really puzzled me why I was even thinking of this person. I haven’t spoken to them in a long long time, and while I cared about this person, there really was no reason for me to be thinking about them at the time.
I’m sure most of you reading this will say that that is one of the most common, natural things in the world. I agree and I’m not denying that. However, I feel quite strongly that the thought’s message is a lie. Doing a great deal of meditation, I’ve realized that the “real” me does not miss this person, however, there is a strange thought pattern that seems to.
Why do I say it’s a lie? Because if I simply remain present and do not follow that thread of thought, and instead let it just pass by me, it goes away quickly and I do not miss anyone or anything. I’m simply content, at peace, enjoying my bowl of oatmeal, or spending way too much time in a hot shower (I’m guilty of this), or playing my video game, or whatever it is I’m doing.
This isn’t the only instance of this either. Generally speaking, if I remain in the present moment, engaged and focused on the moment I’m currently living, whether it be teaching some class, grading their homework, lifting weights at the gym, or whatever it is, I’m at peace. I’m calm. Nothing is wrong. I’m not depressed. I’m not angry. I’m just there, and it’s ok.
Stranger still, if I remain in the present moment without brooding over all kinds of thoughts from the mind, I’ve noticed that I even become joyful, playful, and silly acting. Not mentally childlike, but playful like a child. Take the other morning. My mind was just at peace, no thoughts at all. I was lecturing on some physics problem regarding a dragon dropping its egg and the students were supposed to compute the egg’s trajectory. I started breaking the problem down and made some comments, “Well this would be a bit more complicated if we took into account drag from the air. But wait… *stares at the problem for a moment, then back at the class* How is this dragon even flying if there’s no air?” Students start smiling at me, a few start laughing, others just shrug at me, “Aren’t you the professor?” Then I got back to working the problem on the board while singing, “Puff, the magic dragon, lived at height H, it frolicked its wings in the etheric mist, poor guy drops his little eeeeeeggggggggg! -makes falling sound- Splat! -doodles splat on the ground level on the chalkboard- Flight, life, death, these are the true mysteries of Physics 1135.”
My real nature, when my attention is not diverted by the mind, is playful, silly, joyful, at peace, loving, kind, patient, and quite pleasant to be around. However, if I get lost in the mind, brooding, focusing on all kinds of negativity, etc., my real nature is somehow masked over, covered up, like a clear stream of water being muddied up by stirring up dirt from the bottom.
My mind can be a giant maze. I think of it as this elaborate holographic museum, filled with all my memories, experiences, and emotions, all linked together in some elaborate web. It likes to spontaneously create these distractions and throw them to my conscious attention, hoping they’ll grab be, all being attempts to pull me out of the present.
Say I would’ve dove down into my mind that morning, focusing my attention “into” that thought of “I miss so and so”. I would’ve thought of this person and it would’ve brought up a lot of memories. That would’ve created some background emotion of depression and sadness. Then that would’ve lead to other thoughts of, “Everything in this world eventually disintegrates. Everything is temporary. Why are things this way?” Then I would’ve gotten aground and began pondering change in general, and before long I’m thinking of my grandmother dying, my weight-lifting buddy Steve dying, I think of seeing everyone get older, and before long I’m in this gloom, doom, and despair, thinking, “This world of pain and so much suffering. Why am I even here?” Then if I’d continued down this rabbit hole, I would’ve eventually thought of that quote from Bertrand Russell, in his book In Praise Of Idleness, where he’s talking about how all we do on this Earth is move dirt around from one place to another, and what do we humans think we’re even accomplishing with our actions? It’s all futile. Then I’m going into work to give lectures to students with some background emotion of depression and a underlying thought of, “We’re just wasting time. Let me teach you guys sophisticated ways to move dirt around.” Do you think I would’ve been cutting jokes? Making anyone laugh? Had any fun?
And throughout this entire mental “dive” into the holographic memory database, this entire process is continually narrated by this false “I”. When you’re reliving these memories, there are these thoughts infused with “I”. “I can’t believe that happened…”, “I hate this…”, “I wonder if I could’ve done this differently…”, “I’ll never forgive so and so….”, and on and on it goes. If you meditate, and self-reflect, you quickly realize that this “I” is just a word, a sound, a weird, fake thought-stream attached to the sense impressions and emotional memories, weaving some interpretation of the events that happened and commenting incessantly, and most of this commentary is either outright false, or just stupid. Or maybe this is just my mind, I don’t know. But what I do know is that this false “I” has no reality, nor does it represent what “you” really are in any way.
My mind was telling me that I missed an old friend, implying that happiness and contentment were dependent on that person being present. Somehow the present was lacking something because that person was not there. But in reality was there anything missing? No. When I refused to give any conscious attention to that thought stream, with its lies, its false belief of “I need this other person…”, I’m perfectly content. My day giving lectures went just fine, no depression or discontent of any kind. I felt just fine, a quiet joy and peace. As I was saying earlier, my true nature, the real me, I’m always content, fulfilled, happy, and have all I need. This becomes self-evident when you calm the mind. However, this is easily forgotten though when the mind’s turmoil masks over this simple truth.
Each and everyday I’ve been dismantling this false “I”, and trying to remove as many of these false thought streams as possible. Diffuse them. Suck away their energy. Reprogram them. When I self-reflect on them, they seem to be rooted in confusion, based upon erroneous views of what I am, and my true nature.
What am I in reality? No-thing any of you can perceive, completely invisible, but can and will spontaneously manifest itself, quite beautifully and effortlessly, if I don’t let its energies be diverted in confusion and nonsense.